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Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida
Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 establishes public ownership of all presidential records, which were defined not just as documents written by the president but those he reads, hears, or interacts with in any way. All of those records—all of them—have to be submitted to the National Archives. After review by the archivist, written permission can be given to dispose of records found to have no “administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value.” But until then, the archivist gets everything. Everything.

So what were 15 boxes’ worth of presidential records—records never turned over to the National Archives—doing at Mar-a-Lago?

As The Washington Post reported on Monday, those records were found last month and retrieved by the archives. They include such consequential records as the letter left for Trump by President Barack Obama, and the whole series of “love letters” exchanged between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Also included were a whole series of exchanges with world leaders that apparently included “mementos and gifts.” All of which Donald Trump failed to turn in.

The excuse provided by Trump staffers: “a frenzied packing process in the final days of the administration because Trump did not want to pack or accept defeat for much of the transition.” But whether Trump was shopping around chotchkes from Putin or couldn’t give up clutching his Dear Kim letters close, what’s going to happen now is an investigation.

Following the discovery, House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney announced that that they would be looking into how the boxes of documents ended up where they definitely should not be.

“I sounded the alarm in December 2020 about the danger that the former President and senior Trump Administration officials were not properly transferring presidential records to the National Archives,” said Maloney, “and unfortunately, we now know that was the case. I plan to fully investigate this incident to ensure the law is followed and records from the Trump Administration are with the National Archives where they belong, rather than stashed away in Trump’s golf resorts.”

Trump infamously once used money from his supposed “charity” to buy portraits of himself, as well as football memorabilia, which he then displayed at his various country clubs. It seems not unreasonable to believe that Trump intended to use the documents and gifts found at Mar-a-Lago for self-aggrandizement at his facilities.

So far, it’s not clear that any of the documents located are critical to the investigation of Jan. 6, or had information on Trump’s extensive attempts to undercut faith in the election and conduct a coup to overturn President Joe Biden’s clear victory. However, the 15 boxes located so far don’t appear to be the end of what Trump carried off to his all-you-can-eat-shrimp paradise.

The National Archives are continuing to search for other documents and items that—by right and law—belong to the American people. And the Oversight Committee will investigate whether this was a genuine oversight, or something that was more deliberate.

The National Archives has already produced over 700 pages of documents for the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 after Trump lost his last appeal to withhold these documents in the Supreme Court. However, it’s clear that Trump regularly ripped up documents that should have come to the archives. Some of these were repaired through the dedicated, if frustrating, work of two archivists assigned to actually tape documents back together. However, it’s not clear if Trump’s “relentless document destruction habits” irrevocably destroyed some sources of potentially vital information.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

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